Live & Touring

On The Road With DJ Shadow Part 4: The Merchandising Approach

image from Michael Fiebach is the Project, Marketing and Merchandise Manager for DJ Shadow. As they've crossed North America on tour, Michael has  offered an exclusive look inside how they market and stay connected to fans. (Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3)

Only 2 more shows.  I cannot believe it is almost over… I have never worked in a traditional retail store, but I am an entrepreneur and salesman by heart.  As a kid (we're talking, like 8 years old) I used to hold Yard Sales in front of my parents house. 

They still love to make fun of the fact that I would wake them up with my 8AM "YARD SALE!" screams as curious people walked along Delancey Street in Philadelphia.  Some people stopped to simply humor this crazy kid, and some actually stopped to buy some hand-me-down clothing, or an old video game.  Approaching music merchandising, is, in my opinion, the same as approaching product sales in ANY arena: 

1) Demonstrate Product Value. This comes down to the music itself, and the packaging.  Make someone want to shell out the $10-$15 for a CD, even though they can easily get the same music online for free.  Don't just press single sleeve jewel cases; make the packaging interesting, and most importantly, the music MUST SOUND GOOD!

2) Present The Products Professionally.  Whether it is on your online web store, or at a merchandise booth at a venue; the products should be displayed in an organized and visually pleasing manner.  This is the reason large retail stores pay specialists for product presentation; there is a big difference between a nicely presented product space, and a sloppy one, and it will show in the sales figures.  I will admit that in terms of tour merchandise, I am not the best at making a nice product presentation, but I have been working on it, and I think  it has improved as the tour has gone on (and the sales have improved along with it!).

3)  Offer Products That Cater To Your Fanbase.  For Justin Bieber, teen-sized tees and tank tops work.  For DJ Shadow, 180-gram limited press vinyl, and hand-stamped and assembled accessory packs work.  The point is, shape your product offering around what your fans want.  Don't try to be something you're not in terms of the merchandise (or in anything for that matter).  Not every fan-base is full of collectors, and not every band has 12 year old fans; create accordingly.

4). Create a Product Line.  Again, whether it is for tour, or for online sales- I believe creating product lines is a good approach for music merchandise sales.  A tour tee, a tour accessories pack, a tour CD, and a Tour hoodie, and then maybe a bundle packaging all of those things together, with a bonus CD.  The latter (bundle), is something we opted out for this time around, but we have done it in the past, and it can certainly work.  Either way, create a line of products with a cohesive theme.

5).  Array of Pricing Offers.   I mentioned this before, but just to reiterate: create offerings that fans of any sub-demographic will be able to purchase.  Everything from the $10 CD, to the $15 tee, to the $50 hoodie, and finally to the $100 bundle, or special product.  Not only is this about catering to budgets, it is also catering to fan segments (Casual, Regular, and Super-Fans). 

6). Tee Shirt Designs.  I think it is smart to have some straight-forward designs with just the band logo, and maybe a simple back-print, but also to have 1-2 abstract tees that don't necessarily shout the band name.  Most bands just go for the former, and have a few different designs with their band name plastered across the front of the tee, but I have found that sometimes people like a more artistic approach to their band merchandise.  Having both options is a good idea if you can afford the up front tee manufacturing costs.

7)  Create A Genuine Shopping Experience.  Again, whether it is on your web store, or on tour; buying merchandise from your band should not be much different than buying merchandise from Gap, Amazon, or iTunes, etc. Strive for merchandising greatness, just as a large company would!  For Tour merch: bring shopping bags, maybe even brand the bags with your band logo.  People don't want to carry vinyl or tees around with them the whole show.  Having a bag gives them something to carry their merch in, and it also encourages larger buys.  I have seen this work time and time again.  Here is an example of a typical tour-merch interaction:

Fan: "I want to buy a bunch of vinyl, but I don't want to carry it around all night, you guys don't have bags, do you?"

Seller: "Yes, we have bags!  You can either walk around with it, or check it at the coat check."

Fan: "Wow, great, give me 1 of each vinyl, and you know what- throw in the tour tee shirt in size L as well."

That is NOT embellished, that exact interaction has happened way more times than I can count.  Most people are very surprised that we even have bags.  This is an example of going the extra mile, and spending a few extra bucks to make a genuine shopping experience, and the return has far exceeded the investment.  Our acceptance of credit cards using Square has also contributed to the genuine shopping experience, and has also encouraged larger buys.

That sums up the basics of the merchandising approach.  Care, attention, and quality are the most important things, and as with ALL of the topics I am discussing, if the music isn't good, and isn't commercially viable, then none of this matters.  So upcoming bands: perfect the music before you dive into this wonderful world of Direct To Fan mania. 

Our next show is in Denver, then we are on to Salt Lake City, and then we are done and it is time to head home for Thanksgiving (what could be better than eating all day and watching football with family?).  I am definitely looking forward to the last 2 shows, and I hope they are a good finale to this amazing tour.  Last night Shadow played  to a sold out crowd at Park West in Chicago, and I have to say that it was the best show of the tour in my opinion.  It also happened to be the best night for merchandise sales!

I am going to leave this post at that this time around.  Shorter than the previous 3 installments, but I hope it served its purpose.  I will be back with another follow-up soon! 

DJ Shadow on Twitter: @djshadow
Me on Twitter: @mfiebach

More: Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

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  1. The most important thing here is: the music MUST SOUND GOOD. No crappy overly loud mastering or amateur studio jobs please.

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